An Antique Disposition
First Gravedigger is set in the world of antiques -- not necessarily the cherishing thereof, but the buying-and-selling end. At the time I wrote the book, Jonathan Gash's Lovejoy novels were new on the scene and I'd not yet discovered the very special joys of those roguish stories. But I didn't choose antiques as my background because I thought it was an unmined field -- oh no, that's not the reason.
The reason I wrote a novel about the antiques business is that one backless bookcase in my office blocked an electric outlet. All the other outlets were in use except that one right behind a shelf of unread books I'd picked up here and there. So every time I wanted to run the vacuum cleaner, I had to remove two books from the shelf in order to reach through and plug in the vacuum cord.
One of those two books was a volume about antiques. After I'd moved the book for about the twentieth time, I thought I might as well read the thing. And that's how I came to write a book about antiques.
(The other book was the collected letters of Bedrich Smetana, which I have yet to get to.)
The title comes from a play that's been around for a while:
Hamlet: Whose grave's this, sirrah?
The novel is the story of a man who digs his own grave. Earl Sommers is a me-first kind of guy. He works as a furniture specialist at a prestigious antiques gallery, a likely heir apparent to the elderly owner of the gallery. But he's not above cheating his benefactor or playing illicit games with the owner's young wife.
But then things start to turn sour. The owner finds out. He begins a subtle campaign to discredit Earl as a dealer before kicking him out. Earl sees it all slipping away -- the gallery, the young wife, even his profession.
That's the time a boyhood friend chooses to show up, a long-time loser whom Earl has little use for. The loser announces he's going to kill himself. Then Earl gets the idea of asking his old buddy to perform one little favor for him before he does the deed.
This book was the first in which I used a male narrator. But by the time I was nearing the end of the writing, I could actually hear Earl's voice in my head. He's a complicated character, but not really brave enough to play the hand he was dealt without trying to cheat. His first instinct is always to try to gain an unfair advantage over the other guy. Like the scorpion in the fable, it's his way.
N.Y.: Doubleday, 1980, ISBN 0-385-17270-2